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Ric Latarski - Don't pity Michael Vick

Another chapter in the book of life of Michael Vick is closed, although the final chapter has yet to be written.

U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson sentenced the former Atlanta Falcon starting quarterback to serve 23 months in prison followed by three years of supervised probation for his role in a dog fighting operation.

Vick previously admitted he bankrolled the operation and helped eliminate - a word that sounds nicer than slaughter - a number of dogs. Vick knew prison was coming so he previously turned himself in before his sentencing Monday morning, presumably as a first step toward salvaging his career.

Two of his co-defendants, Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips, received 18 and 21 months, respectively, and another co-defendant is scheduled to be sentenced later this week.

It should be noted both of these men fessed up immediately while Vick lumbered about and maintained his innocence. Faced with a trial, and perhaps significantly more prison time, Vick finally acknowledged he used what he called poor judgment, pleaded guilty and threw himself on the mercy of the court.

Probably worse in the eyes of the NFL than the dog fighting is the fact Vick also bankrolled the gambling part of the operation, although there was no evidence produced he actually placed bets or made a profit from the wagering.

What Vick probably still doesn't realize is that he received mercy and got the break of a lifetime because he could have been sentenced up to five years in prison. Hardly mentioned is the story that Vick tested positive for marijuana use while his case was still pending.

No doubt the 23 months will be considered far too lenient by some and too severe by others. That is normally the case when criminals are sentenced.

A lot of people keep saying what Vick did wasn't all that bad and that we all make mistakes.

You might want to believe Vick was one of those people who was so disconnected from the real world he honestly did not understand the ramifications of his actions, but that position takes more imagination that H.G. Wells.

First, if you can't see the horror and vileness of dog fighting and believe this is in any way something that should be considered acceptable or condoned, then you are even more pathetic than Vick.

In the second case, this was not just a mistake. Vick made a conscious decision to become involved in an enterprise that was illegal and there is a substantial difference between a mistake and a premeditated criminal act.

If Vick were not a famous and rich athlete, his conduct would be shoved away on the back pages of newspapers as just another half-wit, two-bit thug criminal.

And that is the real tragedy here. Vick had the world in his hands, and for whatever reasons refused to move away from a thug environment. We can only shake our heads at what thought processes resulted in this decision.

Vick has expressed remorse for his conduct, and we can only hope it is sincere because he realizes how abhorrent his actions were, and not simply because he got caught.

Certainly, he hopes to repair his reputation, and if someone wishes to give him an opportunity to return to football upon his release from prison, that, as they say, will be a game-time decision. A second chance has made the difference in more than one life, but that second chance comes only if it is earned.

But what Michael Vick does not deserve is our sympathy. He is where he is because of his own conduct, and if he is losing more than the ordinary criminal, it is only because he had more to lose.

Judge Hudson told Vick he should apologize to the young people who looked up to him as a hero, and perhaps it is only now that Vick is actually fulfilling his status as a role model.

Vick was a marvelous athlete, although a mediocre quarterback, but sometimes demonstrating what not to do can serve as the most powerful example to others.

If there is a role model out there, it should be the dad who goes to work each day, comes home and takes care of his family. And perhaps on a few special occasions he takes his kids to a sporting event where they watch gifted athletes perform with class and dignity while demonstrating an appreciation that they have been blessed with the physical skills and opportunities reserved for only a few.

That was the opportunity presented to Michael Vick. Sadly, he chose a different path.